The National Hurricane Center says Tropical Storm Elsa is strengthening and could became a hurricane before making landfall along Florida’s Gulf coast early Wednesday. In addition to damaging winds and heavy rains, the the National Hurricane Center warned of life-threatening storm surges, flooding, and isolated tornadoes. A hurricane warning has been issued for a long stretch of coastline, from Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay to the Steinhatchee River in Florida's Big Bend area, the AP reports. Elsa’s westward shift spared the lower Florida Keys a direct hit, but the islands were still getting plenty of rain and wind Tuesday.
"Although the environment is not conducive for significant strengthening before landfall, only a slight increase in intensity would result in Elsa becoming a hurricane" Tuesday night or early Wednesday, the NHC said in its 2pm advisory. The Tampa area is highly vulnerable to storm surge because the offshore waters and Tampa Bay are quite shallow, experts say. Across the Tampa Bay region, events, government offices, and schools were closing down Tuesday in advance of the storm. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded a state of emergency to cover a dozen counties where Elsa was expected to make a swift passage Wednesday. (The storm has complicated search and rescue efforts at the site of the Surfside condo collapse.)